IU Simon Cancer Patients to Test Cell Phone Anemia Detection

Posted: Updated:
Kim's method relies on analyzing the color of the tiny blood vessels under the eyelid. Kim's method relies on analyzing the color of the tiny blood vessels under the eyelid.

Even in this era of modern technology, it seems unbelievable that a “selfie” of sorts could be used to make a medical diagnosis. But a Purdue University researcher believes his team is on the cusp of creating a mobile app that can detect anemia with just the click of a cell phone camera. While the condition is prevalent in developing countries, anemia is also a common struggle for cancer patients. Patients at the Indiana University Simon Cancer Center will soon be testing a new anemia detection method developed by Purdue Biomedical Engineering Associate Professor Dr. Young Kim. It could, ultimately, allow patients to trade painful needle pokes for a pain-free selfie.

Anemia is characterized by a low level of red blood cells, or hemoglobin. It can be triggered by a decrease in the production of hemoglobin, or an increase in the loss or destruction of red blood cells. Anemia can be caused by cancer or common treatments for the disease, such as chemo or radiation. The standard method to detect the condition is a blood test to measure the level of hemoglobin.

“[A blood draw] is not really ideal. The result isn’t immediately available, but a patient needs to know; if they’re not in good shape, they can’t go through scheduled [cancer] therapy,” says Kim.  “And if you have chronic anemia, you don’t want to have a series of blood tests, because it can be hard to find vessels for these patients.”

Kim and his team have developed a method that uses a cell phone camera to detect anemia. The patient pulls down his or her lower eyelid to expose the color of the tiny blood vessels underneath and snaps an “eyelid selfie.” Kim’s method, called sHEA (smartphone-based bloodless spectrometerless HEmoglobin Analyzer), relies on virtual hyperspectral images (VHI) to analyze the photo.   

“With a hyperspectral imaging system, you can quantify hemoglobin content very accurately, but it’s really big and bulky,” says Kim. “VHI virtually converts any camera to a hyperspectral imaging system.”

Every photo is based on RGB (red, green, blue) data. The team has created an algorithm that translates RGB data into VHI.

“[VHI] provides more detailed color information, so we can pull out the exact hemoglobin content in the blood,” says Kim.

Supported by a $75,000 grant from the Indiana CTSI (Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute), patients undergoing treatment at the IU Simon Cancer Center will soon be testing sHEA; participants will use both a conventional blood test and Kim’s cell phone method to determine hemoglobin content. The two sets of results will be compared to evaluate the accuracy of Kim’s method.

An even larger study will also soon launch in Kenya through Indiana University’s East Africa-based AMPATH program.

“In developing countries, anemia is a major health problem. In Kenya, it’s known that a large portion of the general population is anemic; some statistics show half of pregnant women and preschool children are anemic, so it’s very prevalent,” says Kim. “A blood test in Kenya is quite expensive, so we want to provide a cost-effective, but very accurate and reliable test.”

Supported by a $385,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health, the study in Kenya aims to have about 600 patients undergoing routine bloodwork compare their hemoglobin results to the results obtained by Kim’s method.

“Although the technology is the same, the need is very different; in the U.S., we want to make it more convenient and more like a home health care monitoring app,” says Kim. “But in resource-limited settings like Kenya, it’s a very important medical technology.”

Kim expects the studies to validate the technology and expose any areas that need improvement. He’s hopeful the results could lead to the creation of a mobile app within a year—providing a snapshot of a patient’s blood content through a simple selfie. 

Kim says it’s important to determine if a cancer patient is anemic, because it can indicate the body’s readiness for cancer treatments.
Kim says it’s rewarding to work on a technology that could help patients both in the U.S. and globally.
  • Perspectives

    • #MeToo, Bullying And What We All Can Do Now

      Indeed, it is an interesting time with so much continuing to come out in Hollywood, the media, other industries, and even our state government related to the sexual harassment of women - women who have remained silent for years. Like those women, I too have been harassed in various ways over the course of my career, even in recent years - and yes, even in top leadership roles. The headline about my departure or the email citing that I was moving on never fully told the real story.



Company Name:
Confirm Email:
INside Edge
Morning Briefing
BigWigs & New Gigs
Life Sciences Indiana
Indiana Connections


  • Most Popular Stories

    • Maggie Galloway accepted the top prize for Inscope Medical. (Picture Courtesy: inX3)

      Organizers Cancel INX Event

      A multi-day event celebrating Indiana innovation that debuted last year will not return this year. In a joint release, INX organizer inXInnovate LTD and the Venture Club of Indiana say INX, originally scheduled for September 18-19 in Indianapolis, has been canceled. The groups cite "unforeseen circumstances" for the cancellation. Last year's event, which took place at The Union 525 in downtown Indianapolis, featured events including the Venture Club's...

    • Elkhart Industries 'Beyond Just The RV Market'

      While Elkhart County is known as the Recreational Vehicle Capital of the World, companies in more diversified sectors are also enjoying significant growth. "I think (the economy) is a little stronger than people might realize and it's beyond just the RV market," Welch Packaging Chief Executive Officer Scott Welch said during an Elkhart Town Hall edition of Inside INdiana Business With Gerry Dick. His company manufactures custom corrugated boxes and he was joined by...

    • Salesforce Begins Pathfinder, Reorganization Efforts

      Salesforce.com Inc. (NYSE: CRM) is underway with the first cohort of its Pathfinder Training Program that is part of the tech giant's ongoing Indianapolis growth. The company is partnering with Deloitte to provide business and technical training to Ivy Tech Community College students and Hoosier veterans looking to become Salesforce administrators and developers. The program comes as the company realigns its Marketing Cloud organization. In a statement, Salesforce says it...

    • Ed Gebhart

      Fadness Appoints Gebhart Chief of Police

      Fishers Mayor Scott Fadness has appointed Assistant Chief Ed Gebhart to chief of police for the city of Fishers. He has been with Fishers Police Department since 2000. Gebhart has held several ranks during his tenure including patrol officer, field training officer, background investigator, sergeant, director of training, patrol commander, followed by his most recent role as assistant chief in 2016. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Criminal Justice.

    • Fort Wayne Radio Icon Butcher Passes Away

      A fixture in the Fort Wayne radio scene has passed away. Charly Butcher spent more than 30 years in Fort Wayne radio with a successful morning show on WMEE-FM and, most recently, as host of "Fort Wayne's Morning News" on WOWO radio. Butcher was 61. Butcher was part of WMEE's popular "Those Two Guys In The Morning" show with Tony Richards in the 1980s. He joined WOWO in the mid-2000s as host of "Fort Wayne's Morning News With Charly Butcher."